Opening Symposium - 50th Anniversary Celebrations


This first event in the 2021 programme '50 years of BELMAS: Celebrating the Past and Looking Forward’ featured members of the BELMAS Executive and Council and was attended by delegates from 16 countries – from Malaysia and Qatar to Turkey, Nigeria and the USA.  The panel consisted of the BELMAS Chair, Ian Potter, BELMAS President and Editor of the EMAL journal, Tony Bush, and Jacqueline Baxter, Editor-In-Chief of the MiE journal.  The event was organised by Victoria Showunmi, the BELMAS Conference Chair, and Rehana Shanks, Immediate Past Chair.  Further details of panel members and their colleagues on the BELMAS Council can be found here.

This summary captures the essence of the discussion for those unable to join us at the time.


Victoria Showunmi welcomed everybody to this opening event in our 2021 programme and introduced members of the panel.


"In your role, what are your views on Educational Leadership?"

Ian Potter: 

  • The starting point is to question the purpose of Educational Leadership which leads on to the purpose of your leadership.  
  • We should be continually asking what really matters in education 
  • In the context of COVID, we have become more clear about the inequities in education.  Does this make educational leadership about social justice? What new knowledge is required to understand that ? Who should generate that new knowledge? My view is that educational leadership is enabling and facilitating knowledge production.
  • Those who are engaged in implementing knowledge production should also be involved in the production of it

Tony Bush:

  • If the main purpose of school leadership is student welfare and learning outcome, has the COVID situation changed the emphasis towards welfare and away from learning?
  • Despite global challenges, we must remember the importance of context, both nationally and institutionally.   
  • Given the unique challenges of today, it must be understood that systematic prior preparation is necessary for the acquisition of knowledge, skills and understanding for leadership.
  • We should think about leadership being aligned with headship.

Jacqueline Baxter:

  • We're changing the way education is delivered.  There is a major shift in the way we perceive learning  and teaching activities and the implications for remote activity. There is also a shift in the way teachers and leaders think about themselves and it should be understood that it does not come naturally.
  • The nature of leadership will change in the future


"In your role as an educational leader what challenges do you see facing the field? What ways do you think leaders should handle such challenges?"

Rehana Shanks:

  • In the current circumstances, hierarchy doesn't work and needs to get out of the way to enable teachers to teach. I have seen a collaborative and flattening of the system as skills are shared.
  • The best development is a value based approach

Jacqueline Baxter:

  • COVID has exposed a lot of inequality in the context of education and thrown into focus the commodification of Education at every level.  The marketization of Higher Education has led to questions of value for money. 
  • This is a time to look at two factors which influence Education – trust and accountability.

Ian Potter:

  • The question is how are we managing the space in a fragmented system ? It is important to encourage a democratisation of the process of knowledge production 

Tony Bush:

  • The COVID -19 challenge can be seen as a test case. There needs to be a balance between short-term and long-term considerations in leadership. The notion of handling the changing landscape of leadership gives rise to questions of how to maintain staff and student welfare and how to adapt to the changing learning technologies.
  • What is the right balance between the firefighting required to deal with the pandemic while sustaining a clear strategic vision?  There is a risk that the firefighting will overwhelm the strategic vision.


"What do you think is the role of BELMAS?"

Tony Bush:

  • BELMAS is unusual in that it brings together practitioners, researchers and policy makers.  This brings an extraordinary breadth of membership which is a great strength. 
  • This is achieved in events like this and in recognising that educational organisations, including schools and colleges, are the sites of our research. 
  • The partnership created with leaders assists them in having evidence-informed decision-making.
  • BELMAS supports both parts of that.
  • BELMAS sees itself as very much an international organisation. We can promote and disseminate cross-national learning.
  • We must not simply adopt what others do but adapt what they do

Rehana Shanks:

  • We must encourage participation in our events from across our membership and to create the space for conversations.
  • We should learn from our members what they would like BELMAS to offer

Jacqueline Baxter:

  • BELMAS is at a crossroads with the opportunities this year's online events provide for internationalising the organisation even further.
  • BELMAS staff have done a lot to bring people together online through the Blog, the website, BelmasChat and social media.  We can go further.
  • The 50th anniversary is an opportunity for more longitudinal research – particularly in schools – which would be of great value.
  • We are seeing more cross-disciplinary work, including anthropology and business.  It would be good to see the Society to support more of this to yield a richer understanding of what constitutes a good education.

Ian Potter:

  • BELMAS gives a space  for professional researchers to work together and has a very important role to play to prevent discourse being organised in a binary and polarised way.
  • We can enjoy the diversity of our membership
  • Our support can help leaders, managers and administrators to deepen their reflections and their thinking about their work – so that they can be enquiring professionals and avoid a binary, simplistic and reductive approach to the complexity of educational leadership.


Peter Earley: Should BELMAS be concerned with the formation of the new Institute of Teaching and 4 centres of excellence to introduce a new form of teacher training, early career development and the delivery of NPQs?

Jacqueline Baxter: It is a challenge and the concern is that such institutes might promote a different view of teaching than the one we might wish to promote. We need to continue to promote our critical thinking approach and to continue to raise the profile of the Society to this end.

Rehana Shanks: It's important to create a critical mass of teachers which allows them to question policies and to develop critical thinking.  It can be positive if supported properly and there is a determination to promote the capacity for critical thinking.  

Deb Outhwaite:  BELMAS will have an important role in looking at how policy is introduced and where the policy overlap is with other countries and monitoring the impact on standards.  

Mayamin Altae: "How can we expand BELMAS so that it becomes more international and facilitate visits to the UK for teachers to acquire knowledge?"

Tony Bush: It would be difficult for BELMAS to support teacher exchanges.  We can encourage teachers in Qatar to join BELMAS so that they can become part of the wider community of educators and researchers. We can also stress the international orientation of BELMAS and enquire of our overseas colleagues how we can engage constructively with them.

Ian Potter: BELMAS provides a network and encourages members to communicate how they would like their voices to be heard.  I would love BELMAS to enable study tours in which leaders work alongside academics looking at practice in a particular context.

Rehana Shanks: There is a lot of alignment with UNICEF and UNLC and global goal initiatives.  There is an opportunity for BELMAS to work in this area and perhaps an online study tour might be part of this. 

The Symposium concluded with encouragement for members to join us for the IGNITE session on Wednesday 10th February.  

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